I’d been trying to see why our motion-activated yard light came on. Turning swiftly in the dark, I forget about the heavy hassock and slam my left foot into it. There’s a cracking noise. Pain washes over me like a wave with an undertow. Unlike a wave, it doesn’t recede, blooms larger forever as I make gasping noises. Phil’s brushing his teeth, from the bathroom shouts, “what, what?” a demand for information I haven’t the breath to answer.
It’d already been an annoying day. After waiting all week, this afternoon while I was at the dentist finding out I had a cavity, three review documents arrived in my email with a phone conference appointment for tomorrow. When I got home from the dentist, UPS still hadn’t come with our important package. Phil arranged to be home all day for it. We skipped our evening gym date, loitered downstairs till after 9, afraid we’d miss the knock if we went upstairs.
Waiting for UPS (or FedX or whoever) is like waiting for Godot, a limbo, a purgatory, a Tibetan bardo, a gray state between life and death, a miserable place in which no matter what else you do, you are primarily, obsessively waiting. You work at your computer with one ear tuned to the front door. You watch the evening news and look up every time a vehicle drives past. It’s a nowhere place, waiting for UPS.
Tracking information doesn’t deserve the name. Yes, live chat confirms at 5 p.m. (you can’t talk to anyone) it’s on the truck and will be delivered today. They lie. At ten p.m., tracking info changes to “scheduled for delivery tomorrow.” No explanation. No apology.
We cancel our breakfast date. Fine. I have those documents to read, issues to articulate before my phone conference. I’ll stay here to wait while Phil runs errands. Frustrated, we get ready for bed. And I notice the motion-activated yard light is on. It could be the raccoon. Once I looked out and saw a raccoon. The better to see outside, I leave the lights off.
Sudden pain incinerates all other concerns. For the moments of that eruption, all else is consumed in its flame. Whether the backyard light is on or not; what else I need to do before going to bed; cavities and phone conferences and student learning objectives; where our precious package is; regret over missing breakfast tomorrow; the lying, unreliable, life-ruining UPS system; all turn to ash.
I wait for the pain to ebb, to be able to walk again. But that doesn’t happen. Fortunately, I have a one-legged husband who has a knee scooter for the bathroom. He instructs me. With awkward jockeying, I finish getting ready for bed, grasping how difficult it has been for Phil to reach toilet and tub in this narrow room. We could go to emergency, Phil suggests. No way. I need my sleep. Ibuprofen. A pillow under my throbbing toes.
My fantasy that it would be fine by morning dies. I still can’t walk, but the pain settles to a dull ache. What do you call these toes? I ask Phil, as I write an email description of the injury for Christine, my neighbor the doctor. Oscar, Phil says. And this one’s Rosie. No, I retort, Rosie is pinky toe: even I know that. Undeterred, he continues, and this one is Charlie…
Oscar and Rosie-pinky-toe have swollen to bright sausages. A smoky blue bruise covers the top of my swollen foot. I should call Marilyn and tell her the other reason we had to cancel breakfast, the one I didn’t know yet when I talked to her last night.
Like any shock, even this minor one takes time to sink in. I cannot walk—wait: I can’t walk? UPS hasn’t come, so nor will I go to the doctor. I tape the injured toes to the healthy one next to them, take ibuprofen; ice it, keep it elevated. It’ll heal on its own in four to six weeks. What the what? Four weeks? Look at your calendar and see what else you have to cancel, Phil suggests.
I take the scooter to the top of the stairs, ease onto the floor, cling to the balusters, lower myself stair by stair on my butt like Phil did before he got his prosthesis. I hop to the kitchen, stand one-legged, hands on Phil’s walker, and realize I can’t make breakfast. After two days of hopping, my right thigh and hip ache. How did you do this? I ask Phil.
When I Googled broken toes, one site had preventive advice. First on the list: “don’t walk around your house barefoot in the dark.” It was a comfort. Apparently I’m not the only idiot who breaks toes this way.
Past six p.m. on day two of UPS confinement, our package finally arrives. Christine the doctor prescribes a popsicle stick splint so I can start walking. I suggest Haagen-Dazs. Christine observes that Haagen-Dazs sticks are a good width “for medicinal purposes.” Day three I abandon the walker, hobble around on a Haagen-Dazs stick, my brief sojourn in Phil’s shoe already fading. Although I’ll fail, I try to salvage appreciation of his reality. However tenuous, such understandings are essential to our humanity.